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Science

Dr. Richard Dawkins On Why Disagreeing With Religion Isn't Insulting 1152

Posted by Roblimo
from the there's-no-offense-where-none-is-taken dept.
In part 2 of this video interview (with transcript), Dr. Richard Dawkins explains the function of the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science, headlined by his website. They're holding it up as a blueprint for similar groups: "We're trying to encourage, with some success, other organizations to make use of our facility, so that they will use our website, or have their own websites which are based upon ours, and have the same look and feel and use the same infrastructure." One of the Foundation's other purposes is to oppose organizations like the Good News Club. "What it is, is a group of Fundamentalist Christian organizations, who go into public schools after the school bell has rung for the day. So that it's no longer violating the Constitutional separation of church and state. ... And it's actually the Good News Club people masquerading as teachers, and they're being extremely effective." Dr. Dawkins also talks about his own comments, and explains why they're perceived as offensive: "Ignorance is no crime. There are all sorts of things I'm ignorant of, such as baseball, but I don't regard it as insulting if somebody says I'm ignorant of baseball, it's a simple fact. I am ignorant of baseball. People who claim to be Creationists are almost always ignorant of evolution. That's just a statement of fact, not an insult. It's just a statement. But it sounds like an insult. And I think that accounts for part of what you've picked up about my apparent image of being aggressive and offensive. I'm just telling it clearly." Hit the link below to see the rest of the interview.

Dr. Richard Dawkins: The central focus of our operation is our website, www.richarddawkins.net, which gets a lot of hits. It gets about a million hits a month, and lots of things go on it. We are trying to serve as a sort of service to other free-thinking, atheist, skeptical websites who perhaps haven't made quite such a professional job of it, because they tend to be run by volunteers, whereas we have salaried employees to make a really professional website with a very large number of hits. And we're trying to encourage, with some success, other organizations to make use of our facility, so that they will use our website, or have their own websites which are based upon ours, have the same look and feel and use the same infrastructure. So that's a big project, which is expensive, and it's a big thing that we're working on.

Another specific thing we're working on is the Good News Club, which, I don't know whether you know about this, is an extremely pernicious organization in the United States. In fact there's a book about it by Katherine Stewart called The Good News Club. She's an investigative journalist who has uncovered it all. What it is, is a group of Fundamentalist Christian organizations, who go into public schools after the school bell has rung for the day. So that it's no longer violating the Constitutional separation of church and state. The school day's over, and they swoop in and, as it were, carry on with their "club." But as far as the children are concerned, they look just like teachers.

So when a member of the Good News Club tells children "You're going to Hell because you're a Jew," or something like that, which they do, or tell children to tell other children they're going to Hell because they're Jewish or Catholic or something, as far as the child is concerned, it sounds like a teacher. And Katherine Stewart documents children who will then go to their parents and say, "The teacher told us that we or somebody else are going to Hell," and the parents are bewildered because they know that the teachers shouldn't be doing that. And it's actually the Good News Club people masquerading as teachers, and they're being extremely effective. They're very, very well-funded, as many Christian organizations are, and very well-supported by local organizations.

They're operating all over the country, and indeed, all over the world. They've actually got branches in almost every country of the world now. And we are going to try to help organize some opposition to this. The Good News Club happens to be concentrating next year on Denver, Colorado, which is close to where we have one of our branch offices. So we're going to try to move in to Denver to try to do something about their assault on the children in the public schools of Denver.

Slashdot: In a TED Talk you gave a few years ago, you finished by speaking about how 9/11 changed you, and said "Let's all stop being so damned respectful."

Dawkins: Yes.

Slashdot: How do you feel your approach differs from people who are more apologetic, or more respectful?

Dawkins: Well, as I said, the appearance of my being not respectful is greatly exaggerated by the presumption that religion is owed respect. I didn't mean we should be specifically disrespectful to religion. I just meant that we should not treat religion as any more immune to disrespect or ridicule or satire than anything else.

There's another thing I'd like to say, which arose after the previous question you asked. To many people, clarity is threatening. There are many people, we'll call them apologists or accomodationists, who, as it were, go 'round and 'round being so diplomatic you can hardly understand what they're saying. And I do believe in "Let your yea be yea and your nay be nay." I do believe in just speaking out truthfully.

So without being particularly deliberately offensive or insulting, just tell it like it is. Just be clear. And clarity, as I say, can sound insulting. A good example of this was a few years ago when I wrote a book review, I think it was in the New York Times, about a book that I think was about Creationism. I said "Anybody who claims to be a Creationist is either stupid, ignorant, or insane. Probably ignorant." Ignorance is no crime. There are all sorts of things I'm ignorant of, such as baseball, but I don't regard it as insulting if somebody says I'm ignorant of baseball, it's a simple fact. I am ignorant of baseball. People who claim to be Creationists are almost always ignorant of evolution.

That's just a statement of fact, not an insult. It's just a statement. But it sounds like an insult. And I think that accounts for part of what you've picked up about my apparent image of being aggressive and offensive. I'm just telling it clearly.

Slashdot: Is there anything that can be done to tone the debate down, so that statements like that aren't considered offensive to other people here?

Dawkins: I'm not sure toning it down is the right approach. I think that the right approach is to raise consciousness to the idea that there's nothing special about religion that deserves respect; so whatever you would say about something you disagree with. If you're having an argument about which is the best baseball team, you can have that argument and it's not taken as an insult to disagree with something. People need to stop cosseting religion, as though a disagreement in religion is something like a personal insult.

If I say "I think you're wrong about your God," it's not the same as saying, "I think you've got an ugly face," or "You smell," or something. But there are people who think it is, and I think we need to raise consciousness that it isn't a personal insult. It's just simply an argument about the way the cosmos is and the way morality is and so on.

Slashdot: Thank you for your time.

Dawkins: Thank you very much.

This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Dr. Richard Dawkins On Why Disagreeing With Religion Isn't Insulting

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  • by squiggleslash (241428) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:15AM (#41804613) Homepage Journal

    I think Dawkins has spent too much time in modern England, where, yeah, Christian fundamentalists are very, very, rare, and alas, the Muslim fundamentalist group is surprisingly large (largely because of a substantial refugee population from Pakistan.)

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:17AM (#41804661) Journal

    I spent about a decade debating Creationists on talk.origins, and while there were a few Creationists, mainly of the ID variety, who did understand the fundamentals, by and large most Creationists were simply going off of ICR pamphlets, AiG talking points and Jack Chick comics, and actually didn't have even the most rudimentary understanding of evolution or biology in general, and more often than not mixed biology, geology and cosmology into one great big bag called "Science That Lies".

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:18AM (#41804671)

    As a Buddhist, I find the entire tree of Abrahamic religions insulting: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism. Since they put the afterlife ahead of this life, and the Magic Man in the Sky ahead of Humanity.

  • by Kupfernigk (1190345) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:23AM (#41804741)
    No, they are exposed to an extremely partial story. It is easy enough to understand. Suppose I said to you "There is a thing called a car which is a moving vehicle powered by a series of explosions." You would probably think of reasons why that was very unlikely; wouldn't people be harmed by the explosions? Wouldn't it go along in a series of jerks?

    Creationists have been told, in effect, that scientists believe that living things arose from non-living matter by a process of random aggregation. Placed in context with the idea that the Earth is 6000 years old, this is clearly unbelievable. It is necessary to know a great deal - about the actual age of the Universe, what is known about the early Earth, some basic biochemistry - before you can start to hold any meaningful opinion about evolution by natural selection. During the 19th century it took scientists the best part of a hundred years to understand just how old the Earth was. The body of knowledge collected was enormous - rates of erosion of rock, the meaning of the fossil record and stratification, what the Coal Measures actually were. Even so, it wasn't until the 20th century that a mechanism - radioactivity - was discovered that explained how the Universe could be that old and still have active stars in it.

    Creationists do not know that stuff. They, in my experience, may have a technician level understanding of a science - even physicians are basically technicians, which is how you can have medical doctors who are Creationists - but not the kind of broad appreciation of the scientific hinterland that is needed to grasp just why evolution, the Big Bang and so are are generally accepted by scientists.

    The rest of the educated population mostly takes the conclusions of scientists in trust - in, say, Europe - but elsewhere they will listen to whoever seems to have the most authority.

  • Re:doesn't matter (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Austerity Empowers (669817) on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:28AM (#41804837)

    There exist people who are incapable of reevaluating their views. I call her mom. And it's exactly on topic, as evolution is one of a great many topics she is implacable on. She views athiests and agnostics as being "against god", and she prays for my soul regularly and tries to sneak my son off to church if we leave him in her custody on Sunday. I keep telling her she doesn't need to sneak (hell we put him in a christian preschool!), if she wants to take him it's fine with us, that one day he'll evaluate his views and decide what he believes ...but she still feels like she has to sneak. No amount of reasoned debate from anyone, anywhere will shake her views.

    I would say instead that it is wrong to assume that all religious people are incapable of reevaluating their views. Many are. But there are people who are incapable, it's a complete waste of time to even try, and more than likely you are going to create some enemies. The better solution is to choose your battles and only fight what needs to be fought. If the evangelicals want to have religion in school, then add comparative religion as a curriculum item (and ensure that major religions past and present, are brought up). Let them fight with the catholics, jews, muslims, etc. over curriculum. Maybe they'll forget about science class.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 29, 2012 @10:37AM (#41804967)
    What? So, "believe what I believe or you'll end up in Hell" isn't coercion? That word must mean something different to you.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday October 29, 2012 @11:17AM (#41805757)

    You didn't challenge anything I wrote. You simply presented a list of why you feel organized coercion (i.e. government) is justified. Although I will gladly admit that am a political athiest with plenty of rationale and years of thinking behind it, that wasn't the topic of my post, and nor do I care to discuss it with you.

  • by Dr. Manhattan (29720) <sorceror171@NOSpAm.gmail.com> on Monday October 29, 2012 @11:24AM (#41805871) Homepage
    The conjunction is "or". If you are not stupid or insane, and you deny evolution, then you are, perforce, ignorant.

    If you are neither stupid nor ignorant, then it would seem you're insane [scepsis.ru].

    Dawkins believes - and I happen to agree - that the evidence supporting evolution is just overwhelming. Denying it takes the kind of mental gymnastics or sheer ignorance of flat-Earthers. If he's correct, then his characterization is accurate. You can accuse him of being wrong about the evidence for evolution, but you can't accuse him of being mean-spirited.

  • by fadethepolice (689344) on Monday October 29, 2012 @11:29AM (#41805961) Journal
    I am not a christian, just have studied this subject. Usually this is what a religion becomes after selfish people twist it to their own ends. Jesus was crucified because he told people they don't have to pay the jewish priests to get married or to bless their milk, and for also telling people that if they are sick of taxes they should give caeser all of his gold back and just share the food. (often misinterpreted as a reason to pay taxes "give unto caeser..." but which actually meant not just the taxes, but all of the money. This would be more in context with his teachings than saying pay your taxes.) So. You see, jesus was crucified for saying "You won't go to hell for disobeying the rules" I find that so entertainingly ironic, and the flips jesus has been doing in his grave for the last 2000 can easily be misinterpreted for rising from it.
  • by Camel Pilot (78781) on Monday October 29, 2012 @12:12PM (#41806797) Homepage Journal

    The vast majority of Western Christians do not really "put the afterlife ahead of this life". They live this life in as much luxury and comfort as the next guy. I will agree with you though that giving up this life for the next is the message of the New Testament, which is largely ignored or muted. I will also agree that this sort of thinking can be dangerous and harmful. The chances of success of any endeavour (such as human society) depends greatly upon how well "mental maps" correspond to reality.

    I wonder though if Buddhism doesn't have a similar issue with a complete focus on personal "enlightment" which can cause people to become reclusive and self-focused. For example, what are the significant buddhists contributions to science?

  • by Creedo (548980) on Tuesday October 30, 2012 @10:04AM (#41818147) Journal

    Referring to the Westboro as if it is even remotely representative of christianity is dishonest in the extreme. I (and a great many others) find what they do to be sinful and a denial of the values taught in the new and old testaments, all in the name of elevating "hatred of a particular sin" to their chief concern.

    And yet it is funny that if I remove the whole "offending people by protesting funerals" element, there is very little to differentiate the Westboro group from the more strident strains of Fundamentalism which are quite common in the Bible Belt. I've even heard worst from Catholic priests and Lutheran ministers, and they are certainly not known for the eschatalogical flights of fancy that their Fundamentalist brethren are famous for. I truly wonder where you live in the US which is so free of this nastiness that you discount it. I've primarily lived in the South and the Midwest, and this is simply a fact of life. I currently live in a Midwest town with a population of a little less than 4,000. In that environment, we have one local Baptist church which is fighting a public battle over evolution. We have a homeschool group which teaches kids that Obama is the anti-Christ and that the world is ending any day now, so don't bother going to college to get your mind corrupted. We have several churches which teach about faith healing, and I have watched first hand the agony caused by a cancer sufferer who, in addition to dying a slow, painful death, was also plagued by the fact that she obviously lacked the faith to be healed, and was thus destined for hell. Several churches are quite vocal about the "harlot worshipping Papists," including a Spanish speaking Fundamentalist church made specifically to convert the local Latino population from Catholicism. We have churches which refused to work on the local "Council of Churches" because one church had a female pastor. How about the Catholic visionary who was invited by the priest to speak of her visions of Mary, complete with weeping statues, before announcing that this town had a mark on it, and she was to gather the faithful at a farm and they would be protected from the coming apocalypse. That would have had some interesting fallout if she hadn't keeled over from a heart attack after fleecing some money and buying the property. Or the passion plays, where a minister pointed at the bloody crucifix they were carrying around and yelled at the kids, "You did this! Every cut is there because of your sin! How dare you not be grateful to him?" I could go on for a long time in this vein. And the thing is, none of this raises an eyebrow. It's the same in the neighboring towns(and, in fact, is worse in some). It's been the same in every place I've ever lived. If you don't see this on a regular basis, then you are either living in a secular wonderland or you aren't paying attention.

    I do agree that the Westboro people do not share in Old Testament values. The Old Testament commanded that gays be murdered, for example, not simply protested against.

    And even so you acknowledge that what they do-- probably one of the most extreme examples-- is and should be lawful.

    Of course. When did I say otherwise?

    You can potentially see this in any echo chamber. Certainly I see "demonizing outgroups" even in forums like slashdot; did we not see people calling for the hurricane to wipe out the GOP convention back in august, some posters in full seriousness?

    So, the takeaway message here is that I should expect the average Christian church to be no better than a random group of anonymous people on the Internet?

    Yet from my experience, the worst of it is that if you walk away from your faith it will change the nature of your relationship with others of the church. I have seen it in my own church, and it is not what you claim it to be.

    So you haven't seen families broken apart because of religious differences? I have. You haven't w

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